Eating disorders

Eating disorders during pregnancy and after having a baby are more common than a lot of people, including healthcare professionals, think.

There are several different types of eating disorder:

  • Anorexia nervosa

  • Bulimia nervosa

  • Binge eating disorder

  • Other specified feeding and eating disorders

They can be complex with significant overlapping symptoms, thoughts and behaviours. Many people with eating disorders also experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Eating disorders can affect anybody of any age, gender, ethnicity or background and the majority of those who experience symptoms are not underweight, contrary to the typical stereotype often portrayed in the media.

For some people with an eating disorder, having a baby can be a time of positive change and provide the motivation to challenge unhealthy behaviours. For others, weight gain and changes in body shape during pregnancy may feel out of control, whilst being reminded constantly to ‘eat healthily and stay active’ or being routinely measured at antenatal appointments can amplify the disordered thinking and cause significant distress. After the baby is born, the pressure of ‘losing the baby weight’ and dealing with disrupted routines and possible feeding issues may become overwhelming.

Many people with eating disorders feel ashamed, anxious and guilty, believing that they’re ‘not really sick enough’ to deserve any help or support. They will often tell friends, family and health professionals what they think they want to hear, rather than feeling able to be honest about their struggles.

Struggling to manage an eating disorder does not mean you don’t love your baby.

If you are someone who has a difficult relationship with food, exercise or body image then please do talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor about how this is affecting your life so that the right support can be put in place for you. The sooner you get the right treatment and support, the better the chance you will go on to make a full recovery.

Things to consider

  • Eat regularly. Whether you have a formal diagnosis or not, and whatever your behaviours around food, trying to avoid long periods between meals and snacks will help keep your blood sugar levels stable and reduce your risk of either over-or undereating

  • Take care of your teeth and mouth -dental care in the perinatal period is free so make the most of this and have a check up. Your gums and teeth may be extra-sensitive at this time, on top of any dryness, swelling or decay associated with an eating disorder. Drinking enough water or ensuring regular mouth washes, brushing and flossing teeth and use of lip salve can help maintain comfort and reduce the risk of lesions and decay

  • Keep expectations realistic. There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect parent’ so don’t set yourself unachievably high standards (or allow others to set them for you)

  • Practise self-care: taking time for a walk, or a soak in the bath or whatever you find relaxing is good. Trying to recover from an eating disorder isn’t easy. Taking time to look after yourself will benefit your baby too

  • Be as honest as possible with close family and friends about your struggles. Secrecy increases the self-critical and disordered thinking that may strengthen your illness. Your support network is important for your recovery


Resources to support your mental health and emotional wellbeing

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